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Patriots-Broncos AFC Championship prediction roundup

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  January 17, 2014 08:02 AM

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Tom Brady’s career stats in the AFC Championship game have been surprisingly pedestrian. He’s 5-2, but with seven touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a 74.7 quarterback rating.

Brady’s career stats against Jack Del Rio defenses? Well, that’s a bit different.

The Denver Post points out that the Patriots quarterback is 7-0 against defenses guided by the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator, but that only begins to describe the dominance.

How does 171-for-235 (73 percent) for 1,771 yards, 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions, with a passer rating of 121 grab you?

OK, granted, maybe the numbers are skewed a bit because of Del Rio’s time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but not so fast. Two of those games came in the playoffs in 2005 and ’07 when the Florida franchise had some respectability. Brady was a combined 41-for-55, for 463 yards and six touchdown passes in those games. His ratings were 116.4 and 141.4, respectively.

Two of the other games came against the Broncos the past two seasons, when Denver was a playoff team. In the remaining three games, in ’03, ’06, and ’09, the Jaguars were 5-11, 8-8, and 7-9.

No matter which way you want to spin it, those are some eye-opening stats with the AFC title game approaching Sunday afternoon.

Globe staff: Three out of five pick the Patriots (Denver by 5 ½).

Boston.com: Zuri Berry likes the Patriots.

ESPN.com staff: Nine out of 13 pick the Broncos.

Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Broncos 34, Patriots 31. “It still sounds quite strange, but I think Tony Dungy had it right when he told me on Monday that this meeting of Hall of Fame-bound quarterbacks will likely come down to the running games, and the run defenses. The Patriots' passing game weapons just can't match the multifaceted Broncos', so the devastating power running of LeGarrette Blount is New England's best chance to dictate the tempo of the game, and in the process limit the number of Peyton Manning possessions as much as possible. In the Patriots' past three games, they have scored 10 rushing touchdowns and just two through the air, and are succeeding at almost 70 percent (9-of-13) in terms of their red zone touchdown percentage. The Denver run defense is going to have to hold up against a New England offensive line that's blowing people off the ball, and Manning is going to have to make the most of almost every scoring opportunity the Broncos get. In their seven losses the past two seasons, the Broncos are giving up almost 148 yards rushing per game. Denver can run it a little bit too (remember Knowshon Moreno gouging the Pats for 224 yards in late November?) but the Broncos will also take their share of shots downfield as well, especially with tight end Julius Thomas healthy for this game after he missed playing at New England in Week 12. It should be yet another classic in the Manning-Brady rivalry, but in the end, it just feels like it's going to be No. 18's year. If not now, when?”

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Broncos 31, Patriots 24. “The Patriots came back from 24-0 to beat the Broncos earlier this season, but these are much different teams now. New England has taken on a run-first persona on offense, pounding the ball last week against Indianapolis. But it's tougher to run on the Broncos than the Colts. Denver was 10th in yards per attempt during the season. As for the Broncos, they ran it down New England's throat in the first meeting. Knowshon Moreno went for 224 yards. That won't happen again. The Patriots sat back and dared the Broncos to run it, and they did. They will still play back more than normal, but I think they will change it up more. That could give Peyton Manning shots in one-on-one situations. The Broncos didn't have tight end Julius Thomas last time, so look for him to be a factor. The Patriots did have Rob Gronkowski in the last meeting, and he's out now. So where do they turn to get their passing game going? Denver has struggled against the pass, and will be without one of their top corners in Chris Harris, who tore his ACL last week. I would expect Tom Brady to challenge the Denver corners. We can talk all we want about the running games from last week, but this will come down to Brady vs. Manning. The last time they played in a title game, Manning won. He will win again. Manning is on his way to another Super Bowl. Broncos take it.”

CBS Sports staff: Eight writers split down the middle (-5.5 Denver).

Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 31, Broncos 27. “The 15th and perhaps last edition of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning of course is the broad framework for Sunday’s early game, the duel of Canton-bound arms in some ways seeming even bigger than the game, than Patriots-Broncos. The result is for the AFC’s Lamar Hunt Trophy and a spot in the Super Bowl, but based on the preamble, you’d think it was mostly about the two QBs and their legacies. Clearly, Brady’s 10-4 edge head-to-head and more pedigreed postseason résumé puts the far greater pressure here on Manning to win at home and not end his historic season sourly. So does the teams’ wild regular-season meeting, won by the Pats 34-31 in overtime. You’ll recall Denver led 24-0 before collapsing under Brady’s assault, and that Manning (150 yards) had his worst game of the season. Weather should not be a big factor in the rematch; cold but no rain. Besides, a team from outside Boston is supposed to have chattering teeth in Denver? I like New England in what would be a big upset, and I do so with utmost respect for Manning and Denver’s home record. Picking against Peyton at home feels like betting against tomorrow’s sunrise, but the gut feeling here is pretty strong. Saturday-game winners in the previous round are 7-1 since 2010 in this round, a trend favoring New England. Manning is 6-11 all-time against Bill Belichick teams. John Fox is 1-6 against the Pats. NE finally has a running game and has three very good cornerbacks. And here’s something else that might seem small but isn’t: Denver is missing injured CB Chris Harris, and the Broncs’ opposing passer skyrockets when Harris isn’t on the field. That’ll clear a path for Brady to victimize 34-year-old replacement Quentin Jammer and to continue his mastery of Manning.”

USA Today staff: Six out of seven pick the Broncos.

Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk.com: Patriots 30, Broncos 27 (OT). “The easy narrative for this one, based on recent and more extended history, is that the Broncos will find a way to lose and the Patriots will find a way to win. Sometimes, the smart move is to stick with the easy narrative. (I otherwise don’t know much about smart moves.) Throw in the fact that Tom Brady believes no one will pick the Patriots, I’ll also partially pick them out of spite to win a game that could end up being an all-time epic. (Yes, I know I predicted a Broncos-Pats AFC title game in early September and at the time picked the Broncos to win. So basically I’m covered either way.)”

Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk.com: Broncos 37, Patriots 35. “There are a lot of reasons to think the Patriots can put a lot of points up on the Broncos. Key Denver defenders including Chris Harris, Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson are injured and out. LeGarrette Blount’s emergence gives the Patriots a running threat that the Broncos will have a very tough time stopping. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are a good pair of targets for Tom Brady. I fully expect the Patriots to score four touchdowns. And yet I’m picking the Broncos because Peyton Manning has played the quarterback position better this season than anyone has ever played it before, and I expect him to have a very big game against New England’s defense. In a high-scoring game, the Broncos punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.”

Peter Schrager, Foxsports.com: Patriots 33, Broncos 27. “All eyes are on Peyton Manning and what’s at stake for him, but Tom Brady knows he hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 campaign. This team isn’t going softly into the night as some liner note to Peyton Manning’s swan song. They’re going to come out hitting and they’re going to come out on top. Expect Blount to continue playing the Corey Dillon 2.0 role to perfection and look for unsung defensive players — guys like Jamie Collins, Steve Gregory and Logan Ryan — to continue to make big plays. This has all the makings for a classic Manning-Brady shootout, but I see it being an old-school Manning-Brady game that’s actually won on the ground and in the trenches by everyone else on the field. Brady wins in a slugfest, not an aerial show. And in the locker room afterwards? The Patriots barely even smile.”

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 26, Broncos 23. “Manning must be sharp to Decker and Welker, because Demaryius Thomas should see plenty of Aqib Talib, and with Jamie Collins the Patriots can contain Julius Thomas. Denver’s Knowshon Moreno was the one who ran wild in the first meeting, but LeGarrette Blount is one rolling behind a New England line that’s finally playing its best.
The Broncos are favored, but you still feel like they are the underdogs here given Manning’s history vs. Belichick and how they fell short last season. Here’s thinking they steal a game that’s more ugly than you would think.”

It says here: Patriots 35, Broncos 33. Brady might have to get ready for two weeks of questions about facing the favorite team of his childhood.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.


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